India celebrated its 74th Independence Day on 15 August 2020. Celebration of the Independence Day is to remember the sacrifices of freedom fighters of India, who fought against the exploitative British colonial power. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had led India’s non-violent struggle for independence.
Going with tradition, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi unfurled the national flag from the Red Fort in Delhi and addressed the nation.
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Modi has been doing this extremely important ritual of India’s Independence Day for the last six years. However, it is necessary to ask if Modi is the right person with the adequate moral authority to lead the nation in paying homage to Gandhi-led freedom fighters, who had made huge sacrifices to bring freedom to the country.
Modi comes from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — National Volunteer Organisation — background and thrives with RSS support. The history of participation of the RSS in India’s freedom struggle is extremely problematic.
RSS is openly asking India to be a Hindu country and the BJP government has taken several steps in this regard by encroaching upon Muslim personal law, taking away the semi-autonomous status of Muslim majority Kashmir, and changing citizenship law to exclude Muslim refugees
While Indians were fighting against British, freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Ashfaqullah were happily sacrificing their lives, the father of Hindutva ideology ‘Veer’ Savarkar had sought clemency promising loyalty to the ‘English government’.
In 1930, when Gandhi launched ‘Salt Satyagraha’, RSS had decided not to take part in it. RSS not only opposed Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ movement but also its members were encouraged by leaders to join as civic guards of the imperial government and its leadership was also supporting colonial rule till its end.
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The tricolor, India’s flag which Modi unfurls on Independence Day was itself opposed by the RSS. On the eve of independence, RSS mouthpiece Organiser, in an editorial described tricolor as an evil and asked for India’s flag to be of saffron colour.
RSS also opposed India’s new constitution as it was not based on caste-system based Manu Smriti. It took 52 years for the RSS to accept the tricolor, and only on 26 January 2002, the RSS hoisted India’s tricolor at its headquarters in Nagpur for the first time.
Not only Modi’s ideological establishment, RSS was opposed to India’s freedom struggle, its flag, and constitution, it was even allegedly involved in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, who was the head and heart of the movement for the independence.
Ban on the RSS
Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse was a ‘former’ RSS man, and even the ‘icon’ of the RSS, Savarkar was an accused co-conspirator. After Gandhi’s assassination on 30 January 1948, the Indian government had banned the RSS.
That ban was lifted on 11 July 1949 after the RSS pledged to stay away from politics, not to be secretive, to shun violence, and also to profess loyalty to India’s constitution and tricolor.
It is another matter that RSS has not kept those promises it had made to India’s then Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. RSS was also banned during the Emergency and for its role in the demolition of a centuries-old mosque at Ayodhya.
Unfortunately, for their political expediencies, the previous governments did not take the necessary measures to stop it to pursue its divisive ideology and left it to grow and prosper.
The outcome of that has been the spectacular growth of the RSS, and its complete control now over the Indian government and all other key institutions through its one-time Pracharak Modi.
The same tricolor, which was described by the RSS as the symbol of evil and had taken 52 years to formally accept it, is being used to create a nationalist fervour in the country and to humiliate minorities.
Though, Modi engages in theatrics to show his commitments to India’s secular democratic constitution, after taking over the power in 2014 he has done everything possible to weaken India’s secular values and democratic institutions.
Politics of exclusion
RSS is openly asking India to be a Hindu country and the Modi government has taken several steps in this regard by encroaching upon Muslim personal law, taking away the semi-autonomous status of Muslim majority Kashmir, and changing citizenship law to exclude Muslim refugees.
India under Modi has moved far from what India’s freedom fighters under Mahatma Gandhi had envisaged about it. It is not Gandhi’s ideals which governs India anymore, Golwalkar's ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ has taken over as the guiding spirit of Modi’s New India.
Not surprisingly, Gandhi’s killer Godse is openly celebrated as a hero by many Modi supporters, including a prominent member of Parliament. Not only several statues of Godse being built in some parts of India, proposals are coming up to rename Meerut as Godse Nagar.
Modi himself follows several social media accounts, who regularly glorify Godse and celebrate his terror act to assassinate Gandhi.
India’s current Prime Minister, his party BJP, and his ideological fountainhead RSS stand opposite to what India’s freedom fighters had fought for.
No doubt, Modi is an elected leader, but when he unfurls the national flag to celebrate India’s independence, it contradicts the memory and ideals of India’s freedom movement and the leader of that glorious struggle, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Ashok Swain is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden